The ultimate guide to Leh-Ladakh

“The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there” – Gandalf

A trip to Leh-Ladakh has now made its way to the top of every wanderer’s bucket list. Nature’s outlandish handiwork is scattered all over the valley in forms of brown and arid amphitheatrical rugged mountains, rich verdant grasslands, exotic flora and fauna, boundless saltwater lakes, high-altitude deserts, and a multitude of deep-rooted cultures that are still well-concealed from the outside world. Call it the ‘Land of high passes’ or ‘the land of monasteries,’ once visited, Ladakh stays with you forever.

About the Itinerary:

Longing to go on a trip to Leh-Ladakh this season? Aren’t sure which route to take, Srinagar, Manali or fly directly to Leh? Take a sigh of relief because we have got everything covered in this comprehensively compiled guide to Leh-Ladakh. From the fun-facts about the places to visit in Ladakh to essential queries like “how to reach?” and “where to stay?” get all your doubts cleared!

Short Itineraries

Itinerary One Itinerary Two
Day 01: Arrive in Srinagar Day 01: Arrive in Manali
Day 02: Srinagar to Kargil Day 02: Manali to Keylong
Day 03: Kargil to Leh Day 03: Keylong to Leh

Depending on where you begin your trip, the below itinerary can be your Day 1 or Day 4 of the journey.

Itinerary Three
Day 01: Day at rest for better acclimatization
Day 02: Leh Local Sightseeing
Day 03: Leh to Nubra Valley (Diskit/Hunder) via Khardung La
Day 04: Nubra Valley to Leh via Khardung La
Day 05: Leh to Tso Pangong via Chang La
Day 06: Tso Pangong to Leh via Chang La
Day 07: River Rafting & Café Hopping/ Shopping
Day 08: Depart Leh (Either fly-out of Leh or go to Manali or Srinagar)

 

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Srinagar-Leh Highway

Itinerary One – Srinagar to Leh

Day 01: Arrive in Srinagar

Day 02: Srinagar to Kargil

Day 03: Kargil to Leh

Srinagar to Leh Bus

  • JKSRTC bus shuttles between Srinagar to Leh and vice versa every day. Since there is no facility to book it online, one has to visit the Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) in Srinagar in order to make a prior booking for the journey ahead. 
  • The bus departs at 8 AM from TRC, the journey of the first day is concluded by taking a night halt at Kargil. Your drive recommences in the following morning and you arrive in Leh at around 4 in the evening of the same day.
  • The bus ticket may cost between INR 500 to INR 1300 (approximately) per person based on the bus type. Please note that your stay and food in Kargil are expected to be self-arranged, not included in your bus tickets.

Srinagar to Leh Taxi 

Srinagar to Leh non-stop ₹2500

Srinagar to Leh with a night halt at Kargil ₹2800

(Estimated per person prices for an Innova shared by 6 pax)

Srinagar to Leh Itinerary

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A view of Dal Lake in Srinagar

Day One: Arrive in Srinagar 5,200 ft.

  • Arrive in Srinagar. Hire a shared taxi from outside the airport or take the bus to reach TRC (Tourist Reception Centre). 
  • Once you reach the TRC Office, purchase a bus ticket for your travel from Srinagar to Leh on a subsequent day. 
  • After ensuring a ticket for your next day’s travel, head to your hotel room, check-in, and spend the day at leisure.
  • Overnight at the hotel.

Where to stay: 

  • Guesthouses near Abi-Buchwara Dalgate will cost around INR 500 to INR 800.
  • A standard house-boat with basic facilities will cost around INR 800 to INR 1000 for a double room. Premium houseboats can shoot up to INR 6000 to 14,000 per night.

Activities and sightseeing:

  • Mughal Gardens, Pari Mahal, Tulip Garden, Nigeen Lake, Shalimar Bagh, Shankaracharya Temple, Hazratbal, and Shah-e-Hamdan. 
  • Take a Shikara ride in the evening to explore the pristine Dal Lake. If possible, try to experience living on a boathouse. An hour ride will cost you INR 400 (approximately}.
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Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir

Day Two: Srinagar to Kargil 8,780 ft. {210 km / 6-7 hrs}

  • On day two, you board the JKSRTC bus from TRC in Srinagar that departs at 8 AM and arrives in Kargil around 4 PM. 
  • Keep an eye out on the roads, the unreal landscapes following this route can leave you stunned on your trip to Leh-Ladakh.
  • Arrive in Kargil, check-in to your hotel room.
  • Spend the rest of the evening exploring the small mountain town. 
  • Overnight at the hotel.

Where to stay:

  • You will find a decent number of local guesthouses that are hardly listed online and can be booked upon arrival. 
  • Budget guesthouses can range somewhere between INR 500 to INR 1000.

Activities and sightseeing:

  • Sonmarg (9,200 ft.) – A mountain valley that is known as the meadow of gold. The valley is marked by the  Sindh river that meanders alongside the road.
  • Zoji La (11,574 ft.) – Also known as the gateway to Ladakh from Srinagar side, it is a high mountain pass that you cross en route. 
  • Drass (10,761 ft.) – You can pay homage to the martyrs of Kargil War at the War Memorial in Drass. Please be sure of the timing, it is open 10 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM only, remains closed every Sunday.
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Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh

Day Three: Kargil to Leh 11,500 ft. {224 km / 6-7 hrs} 

  • On day three, you head for Leh town.
  • The morning bus departs at 6 am so make sure to leave your bed early. 
  • The bus reaches Leh around 4 pm.

Where to stay: Refer to itinerary number 3.

Activities and sightseeing:

  • Namika La (12,140 ft.) – High mountain pass along the route.
  • Fotu La (13,477 ft.) – High mountain pass along the route.
  • Lamayuru (11,515 ft.) – Along the route, pass the famous Lamayuru Monastery that nestles atop a cliff. Owing to its resemblance to the surface of the moon, the region is dubbed as “Moonland.”
  • Sangam – The next attraction along the route is Sangam near Nimmu. As the name suggests, it’s the confluence point of the untamed silt-infused waters of the Indus River and the silky blue waters of Zanskar river: it’s a sight to behold!
  • Magnetic Hill – The mysterious Magnetic Hill is sure to pique your attention with its tricky magnetic force that never fails to mystify visitors.
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Manali-Leh Highway

Itinerary Two – Manali to Leh

Day 01: Arrive in Manali

Day 02: Manali to Keylong

Day 03: Keylong to Leh

Manali to Leh Bus

  • The most comfortable way of travelling from  Manali to Leh or vice versa is by boarding the HPTDC Tourist Bus. 
  • The bus departs at 10 AM from Manali and arrives Leh at around 7 PM the next day.
  • The ticket price one way is ₹2900 per person which also includes a night halt at Keylong with complimentary dinner and breakfast covered (accommodation in 4 & 6-bed dorms).
  • The bus began to operate on this route from 01/07/2020 and runs on every alternate day. Due to the massive influx of tourists during the summer months, pre-booking your seat is recommended. 
  • The last bus service from Leh to Manali is scheduled for 16-09-2020. Tickets can be purchased from www.booking.hptdc.in

Manali to Leh Taxi

Manali to Leh non-stop INR 3500/-

Manali to Leh with a night halt at Jispa INR 4000/-

(Estimated per person prices for an Innova shared by 6 pax)

Manali to Leh Itinerary

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View of old Manali in Himachal Pradesh

Day One: Arrive in Manali 6725 ft.

  • Manali serves as a significant junction to kick-start your trip to Leh-Ladakh.
  • Post arrival, check-in to your hotel room and set out for a small exploration trip in this unmatched Himalayan town.
  • Overnight in hotel.

Where to stay:

  • A bed in a dorm room costs around INR 400 to INR 500 near Mall Road and Old Manali.
  • Standard hotels around Mall Road will range between INR 1000 to INR 2500, whereas premium and high-end hotels/resorts can cost up to INR 10,000 per night.
  • Try to look for hotels in Old Manali, a bit far from Mall Road but it offers an inexpensive range of hotels with ample facilities.

Activities and sightseeing:

  • Pay a visit to the revered Hadimba Temple in old Manali. 
  • Explore the nearby waterfalls like Jogini Falls.
  • Spend an hour of solitude at Van Vihar.
  • Soak in the sulfurous hot springs of Vashisht village.
  • Eat, roam, and indulge in a shopping escapade on the jazzy mall road.
  • Buy souvenirs at the Tibetan Centre and Monastery.
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Keylong in Himachal Pradesh

Day Two: Manali to Keylong 10,000 ft. {115 km / 6-7 hrs}

  • Board the bus and embark on your journey towards Leh 
  • The average height of Leh-Manali highway is marked over 13,000 ft. (4000m) where the highest elevation touches up to 17,480 ft. (5328m) at Tanglang La mountain pass. The route is touted as one of the highest highways in the Indian Himalayas.
  • Keeping every aspect of the journey in mind, it is always advised to spend the night at either Keylong or Jispa which are marked at elevations below 11,000 ft. (3352m).
  • The route is praised as the most scenic road in the entire journey of Leh-Ladakh circuit.
  • Overnight at the hotel in Keylong.

Where to stay:

  • If you board the HPTDC Tourist Bus from Manali, the stay and food accommodation are included in the ticket charge.
  • If travelling by taxi, you will find several make-shift dhabas which also offer dorm beds for INR 100 to INR 250 per person.
  • These have not only to provide accommodation to spend the night but they also serve home-cooked meals on extra charge.

Activities and sightseeing: 

  • Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft.) The popular Rohtang pass is a high mountain pass on the Pir Panjal range that connects Kullu valley with Lahaul and Spiti valley.
  • Chenab River The river that follows and accompanies along the route.
  • Koksar A small village used to be an old trade route, now is an eminent stopover.
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Nakee La Pass on Manali Leh Highway

Day Three: Keylong to Leh 11,500 ft. {358 km / 12-14 hrs}

  • Recommence your journey towards Leh.
  • Keep your cameras ready, the landscapes ahead are literally breath-taking.
  • After a daylong exhilarating road trip, Leh will enthrall you at last. 
  • Find a decent homestay or a hotel, loosen up and unwind in one of the highest settlements of the world. 
  • Kick-back, relax, explore, eat, and sleep!

Where to stay: Refer to itinerary number  3.

Activities and sightseeing:

    • Zing-zing Bar A tea stop with several makeshift dhabas serving parathas, chai, and Maggi is a lovely place to take a breather. 
    • Jispa– A small village in Lahaul valley that is nestled along the pristine Bhaga river, just 20 kilometers ahead of Keylong on the Manali-Leh highway. An ideal place to take a night halt. 
    • Suraj Tal (16,020 ft.) – Suraj Tal is a sacred water body in the Lahaul Spiti Valley. Also touted as the third highest lake in India falls along the route. 
    • Bara-lacha La Pass (16,040 ft.) A high mountain pass in the Zanskar range that bridges Lahaul valley to Ladakh valley in Jammu and Kashmir. 
    • Sarchu (14,070 ft.) Sarchu is a major check post that also marks the border of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
    • Nakee La Pass (15,547 ft.) –  One of the major mountain passes in the  Indian Himalayas where you will drive past the 21 notorious hairpin bends of Gata loops to reach Nakee La. The heart-stopping route is where your adventure begins on the trip to Leh-Ladakh.  
    • Pang (15,280 ft.) Pang is noted as a decent landing point where refreshments can be availed. 
    • Morey Plains (15,748 ft.) – A 40 kilometers long plateau flanked both sides of the highway thrills every rider on the Manali-Leh highway. 
    • Tanglang La Pass (17,480 ft.)Tanglang La would be the last pass to cross before you hit Leh town which is also the 12th highest motorable road in the Ladakh circuit.  
    • Karu – Karu is the last refreshment point before Leh. If you touched Karu, get excited- you are almost in Leh!
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Leh-Ladakh Itinerary

Itinerary Three – Leh-Ladakh Itinerary

Day 01: Day at rest for better acclimatization

Day 02: Leh Local Sightseeing

Day 03: Leh to Nubra Valley (Diskit/Hunder) via Khardung La

Day 04: Nubra Valley to Leh via Khardung La

Day 05: Leh to Tso Pangong via Chang La

Day 06: Tso Pangong to Leh via Chang La

Day 07: River Rafting & Café Hopping/Shopping

Day 08: Depart Leh (Either fly out of Leh or go to Manali or Srinagar)

Ladakh via Air

There are a handful of regular flights available from cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Jammu, and Srinagar to the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (Leh Airport). 

Where to Stay

  • Homestays are considered the wisest and economical options to stay in Ladakh. The affordable pricing and basic eco-friendly amenities bring a mutual-benefitting stance to both travellers and locals of Ladakh.
  • The rise of Hotels and hostels in Leh with each passing year can spoil you with stay options across Ladakh. Usually ranging from INR 500 a night to INR 99,000/- a night.

Renting a Bike in Leh

One can hire a Royal Enfield Classic 350cc or 500cc for  ₹1200 a day and ₹1500, respectively (No deposits needed). Independent of the model and make of the bike you rent, it is highly suggested to carry extra fuel whenever scaling the remote routes of Ladakh as reliable petrol pumps are only available in Leh (Note: There are other bikes available for cheaper rent, fuel has to be purchased separately).

If in case you run out of fuel, try to reach the nearest Dhaba or makeshift refreshment and lodging camps to buy fuel. You are likely to get it for a much higher price but will save you from any sort of breakdown until you find the next gas station.

Hiring a Taxi in Leh

You will find notice boards strung up outside nearly every travel agency in Leh. The boards are listed with fellow travellers wanting to share cars. Given are the estimated return prices for an Innova:

Leh to Tso Pangong (Spangmik) ₹1900.

Leh to Nubra Valley (Hunder) ₹2000.

Leh to Tso Moriri & Tso Kar ₹2700.

(Estimated per person prices for an Innova shared by 6 pax)

Protected Area Permit (PAP)

  • Obtaining a Protected Area Permit is obligatory for both Foreign nationals as well as Domestic Indian Tourists. 
  • PAP is also known as the Inner Line Permit (ILP) that enables your entry to the protected areas of Ladakh such as Khardung La, Nubra Valley, Tso Pangong, Tso Moriri, etc.
  • You can also obtain your Protected Area Permit online at http://www.lahdclehpermit.in/ Physically visiting the DC office in Leh town or applying through a local agent are few other ways to obtain your PAP.
  • Please note: PAPs are only valid for a period of 7 days and can be extended for ₹20 a day.

Cost

  • You pay a sum of ₹400 as an environmental fee + ₹20 rupees per day if applied directly.
  • A local agent would charge between ₹700 – ₹800

Documents Required

  • Indians – Original and a copy of Aadhaar Card or Driving Licence
  • Foreigners – Original and a copy of  your legit Passport

Leh-Ladakh Itinerary

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Leh Palace in Leh

Day One: Day at rest for acclimatization

  • Congratulations! You are in Leh, the highest settlement in the Northernmost Union Territory of India.
  • Take this day off to rest and relax. You can also go on a leisure walk in and around Leh.
  • Please note: Up in the mountains at 11,500 ft. the air is heavy to breathe, hence, you must take this day to let your body adjust to the climatic conditions of Leh. Acclimatizing is a great drill to avoid any possible medical condition at such altitudes, please don’t mistake it for a trivial trick.

About Leh: Leh is more like a flatland amidst the towering ridges and cliffs of Eastern Himalayas at 11,500 ft. above sea level. The Leh-Ladakh circuit is India’s high-altitude cold desert, secluded by its icy vastness of barren stretches that evokes a sense of remoteness.

Enjoy the slow-moving life of Leh town, explore, eat, shop, and get amazed!

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Sunset View from Shanti Stupa

Day Two: Leh Local Sightseeing

Day two shall be spent like a mini-holiday, you have the entire day to cover the town wisely, start early with:

All these places are within 50 km of Leh.

Monastery visits: Traverse the nearby monasteries such as Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, Spituk Monastery, Basgo Monastery, Matho Monastery, and  Stakna Monastery. Mostly found draped in prayer flags and engrossed in the chants of their monastic bells, a monastery is a powerhouse of spiritual energies. Luckily, Ladakh is thronged with a great number of these, in fact, you might need to plan another long trip to Leh-Ladakh to cover the list of monasteries alone.

Leh Palace: Walk in the regal galleries of Leh Palace that dates back to the 17th century.  Leh Palace is one of the places to visit in Ladakh if you are a history buff.

  • Timing: Opens from 7 AM to 4 PM daily

Donkey Sanctuary: The only Donkey sanctuary in India commands your attention. It is a small darn that accommodates a maximum of 30 Donkeys at a time. Home for overtired, injured, and pregnant Donkeys. Donation is highly appreciated as the sanctuary solely runs on donations.

  • Timing: Daytime only

Ladakh Rocks and Minerals Museum: The Ladakh Rocks and Minerals Museum displays an assorted collection of rocks, fossils, valuable stones, and mineral samples. 

  • Timing: 10:30 AM to 1 PM | 2 to 7 PM daily (only during the months of May to August)

Leh Market: Go on a shopping spree in the quaint Leh market on the old Leh road. From stone and silver jewelry, artifacts, and the modish prayer flags to Kashmiri pashmina shawls, Tibetan wares, and apricot products; Leh market is a gala colour.

  • Timing: 10 AM to 10:30 PM daily

Jama Masjid: The biggest mosque in the heart of Leh houses a memorial of Shahi Hamdan that dates back to 1666-1667 AD. The mosque was reconstructed recently and only men visitors are allowed to walk in.

  • Timing: 5 AM to 9 PM daily

Shanti Stupa: Perched atop a hilltop in Chanspa, Shanti Stupa is a massive white-dome that dates back to 1991. The base of the Chorten holds relics of Buddha and is one of the highly frequented places to visit in Ladakh. 

  • Timing: 5 AM to 9 PM daily

Hall of Fame: Hall of Fame is a museum put together by the Indian Army. The assemblage exhibits weapons and various arms and ammunition belonging to the Indo-Pak wars.

  • Distance from Leh: 6 KM (approximately) on the Leh-Kargil highway

Zorawar Fort: Wazir Zorawar Singh, a general of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Dogra dynasty constructed this fort which now operates as a small museum and is maintained by the Indian Army.

  • Timing: 9 AM to 5 PM daily
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Khardung La Top

Day Three: Leh to Nubra Valley (Diskit/Hunder) via Khardung La 17, 586 ft. {120 km 5/6 hrs}

  • After an early breakfast, embark on a drive/ride to India’s only high-altitude desert- the picturesque Nubra Valley.
  • Starting from Leh, navigate your way to the world’s 11th highest motorable pass- Khardung La (17,586 feet).  
  • It is the same pass that has become a regular photo-stop for every proud visitor; a motorable pass that is hemmed in by snow-laden peaks. A stopover to Khardung La indeed sends you into a state of euphoria.
  • Descend from the high pass, steer your wheels carefully through the barren yet beckoning sand stretches of Nubra. All along, the jewel-blue waters of the Shyok River will follow you down the valley. Nubra valley is one of the highly recommended places to visit in Ladakh.

Where to stay: Either you stay in Diskit or Hunder village, both offer homestays, guest houses, and luxurious Swiss Tent accommodation. You will also find a couple of hotels in these villages.

Activities and sightseeing:

  • Khardung La: One of the world’s highest motorable passes should be your first stop. You can find a few eateries at the top, stock yourself up for the journey ahead.
  • Diskit Monastery: Famous as the oldest and the largest Buddhist monastery of Nubra – Diskitis believed to exist in the valley for over 250 years.
  • Maitreya Buddha: A striking 100 feet high statue is spotted in the distant region of Diskit. Opposite the statue lies Diskit Monastery.
  • Hunder Sand Dunes: See the double-humped Bactrian Camel on your trip to Leh-Ladakh. These rare mammals are only found in the deserts of Hunder village in India.

Stargazing: Leh-Ladakh is by far one of the best locations to capture star trails. Simply gaze at the star-speckled sky, almost an entire galaxy dances in front of your naked eyes.

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Yarab Tso at 10,377 ft.

Day Four: Nubra Valley (Hunder – Sumur) to Leh via Khardung La {175 km 7/8 hrs}

  • Post breakfast, drive to Sumur, a rural settlement on the other side of the valley. 
  • The village has a couple of attractions to explore, once done, set out for a return trip to Leh town again. 
  • From there, it’s a 5-hour drive to Leh. Spend the evening at leisure. Nubra certainly has some off-the-beaten places to visit in Ladakh. Just keep your eyes on the road for golden-rugged mountains, fluttering prayer flags, and rare exotic animals.

 Activities and sightseeing:

  • Visit Yarab Tso in Sumur, a holy lake which is often famous as the “ the hidden lake.” The trail to the lake demands an uphill trek of 20 to 25 minutes which rewards you with equally compelling vistas.
  • Samstem Ling Gompa, a holy monastery and a spiritual center is another lottery for a history buff. The ancient-styled Frescos and stunning silk Thangkas (painting) take over the walls of the monastery, can totally leave you in awe!
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Pangong Lake in Ladakh

Day Five: Leh to Tso Pangong via Chang La {160 km 6/7 hrs}

  • Pangong is one of the most sought-after places to visit in Ladakh, often flocked with hordes of tourists and riders from across the globe during the high-season.
  • It is the same lake where the climax of ‘Three Idiots’ was shot.
  • Drive past the Chang La pass (17,586 ft.) – the tenth highest motorable pass in the world to reach Pangong.
  • If reached early, you can also ramble alongside the lake. The beauty is sure to leave you mind-boggled at first sight.

Where to stay: Besides hosting several homestays in and around Pangong Tso, the lake also marks 5 to 6 campsites. Almost all the camps offer Swiss tents, hot water, food, and recreational activities. The prices for both the options can vary from INR 500 to INR 5000.

Activities and sightseeing: 

  • Chang La: Take a stopover at Chang La pass (17,586 ft.) – the tenth highest motorable pass in the world, devour on some hot Maggie and milk coffee in the freezing temperature at the handful eateries available at the top.
  • Shey Palace: Shey Palace is a distant sight along the way. A timeless hilltop palace traces its construction to 1655. 
  • Thiksey Monastery: Perched atop a hill some 20 kilometers east of Leh town, Thiksey monastery is associated with the Guleg sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It features a stunningly sculpted Maitreya statue (Future Buddha) and some ancient murals depicting the journey of Buddha’s life.
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View of Thiksey Monastery

Day Six: Tso Pangong to Leh via Chang La {160 km 6/7 hrs}

  • Wind-swept aqua-blue landscapes tinged by an early morning sun at Pangong Tso makes it one of the soul-warming places to visit in Ladakh
  • Post breakfast, click some snaps of the panoramic landscapes, take a few stopovers and then head back to Leh on a non-stop drive/ride. 

Surprising fact:

  • Pangong is a high grassland lake that has no outflow to any other external water body, hence the lake water remains salty throughout the year. 
  • Pangong Tso is 134 kilometers long. 60 percent of the lake remains in the Tibet autonomous region and the remaining part lies within the Indian boundaries.
  • It’s a part of a trans-boundary wetland that is home to some exotic as well as local animals and birds suchlike geese and ducks, the striking Black-necked Crane, and cute little marmots are often spotted on the way to Pangong from Leh. 
  • The lake freezes in winters and you can easily walk over it. 

Activities and sightseeing: 

  • Hemis Monastery One of the most popular places to visit in Ladakh is a Buddhist monastery that is loved for its annual Hemis festival. 
  • Rancho Café Christened after the mega-hit movie 3 idiots, it’s a petit cafe to chill and stock your snack bag. 
  • Stok Palace Another revered monastery in Leh that dates back to the 14th century.
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Leh Market

Day Seven: Day at Leisure (River Rafting & Café Hopping/Shopping

  • Being home to two wild and untamed mountain rivers of India- Indus and Zanskar, Ladakh is an ideal playground to carry out various adventure sports. Rafting is the most celebrated sport in this Himalayan belt and is a must-do adventure on your trip to Leh-Ladakh.
  • If not river rafting, you can simply take this day to explore the small lanes of Leh by foot, try bouldering, go shopping, or eating at Leh Market.
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View from the flight from Leh to Delhi

Day Eight: Depart Leh

Day 8 is up to you to decide whether to continue the trip towards Manali or Srinagar or fly back home.

Do remember to also read The 5 Best Travel Routes to Ladakh & 10 Spectacular Lakes in Ladakh.

To conclude, if you would like to customize and personalize a trip to Ladakh. We can tailor-make a plan using the above places.

1 Comment

  • by
    zortilo nrel
    Posted May 9, 2021 11:25 pm 0Likes

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